“A classic uphill/downhill ride through northern New Mexico's beautiful high alpine mountains.
— J. Bella
With the passage of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness bill on December 19, 2014, the Wheeler Peak Wilderness boundary was redrawn so the section of this ride that was within the boundary is now legally rideable.
This nearly 13-mile loop is one of the only true high alpine rides in the state, providing epic views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and valleys around Red River, as well as high alpine terrain and lakes. The higher sections of this trail cross steep avalanche terrain and there is exposure, rocks and cliffs, and open rock fields that can attract lightning during the monsoon season. There are a few side hikes into the Wheeler Peak Wilderness that are worth the effort, and several great camping sites near Horseshoe and Lost Lakes.
The upper elevations of this trail are usually snow packed from mid-late October until mid-June. Lots of avalanche terrain to be aware of when snow is present. This is a mountain environment with characteristics similar to the Sawatch Range in central Colorado.
There is a lot of private property along the access roads at the bottom of the trail which is all clearly marked and/or fenced.
Need to Know
There are lots of good places for food and drinks in Red River. I'd recommend the Black Diamond Grill for genuine Texas BBQ.
This trail can be ridden as a loop in either direction; I'm describing the clockwise route.
From the intersection with SR 38 in Red River, drive 6 miles up 578 to the junction with the Middle Fork Road. This is the best place to park if riding the loop; you can also park at either the Middle Fork Trail/Forest Road 487
trailhead or the East Fork Trail #56
trailhead, then ride back up to your vehicle.
For the clockwise loop, once parked ride across the bridge and turn right onto Forest Road 58A. Continue through the residential area to the East Fork Trailhead, which is well marked and signed. The singletrack begins here! The first section of trail is a steep and moderately technical climb winding up the mountainside until it passes the Sawmill Park trail and reaches the Big Ditch. There is a sign here describing the history of the area.
Bypass the tempting singletrack leading into the forest on the right side of the ditch and continue on the more worn trail to the left. The next 2.5 miles are a combination of smooth and flowy Sangre de Cristo mountain dirt and rocky and rooty climbs as the trail contours upwards through several drainage gullies and new-growth forest. Keep your eyes open, as there are a few tricky stumps and downed trees to navigate around. Along this ascent, the environment gradually but noticeably transitions to a more high alpine clime, and once you reach the wooden bridge across the Red River you'll be surrounded by older spruce and fir trees. After crossing the river, the trail climbs moderately with more rocks, roots, and flowy sections.
There are a few stream crossings leading to an exposed outcrop with some amazing views of Wheeler Peak's eastern slopes and the valleys to the northeast. Continue along the East Fork Trail #56
as it skirts the Wheeler Peak Wilderness boundary, crosses Horseshoe Creek and ends at the junction with the Lost Lake Trail #91
. There are two signposts here, turn right and drop down a short rocky pitch then continue climbing as the trail meanders through the forest to a large open avalanche path below some cliffs.
The Lost Lake Trail #91
crosses a couple rock fields then reenters the forest and the final climb to Lost Lake begins. Here there are some really nice campsites among the boulders and old growth trees. There are lots of beautiful spots to hang out by the lake for lunch and pictures, etc, and prepare for the downhill. The descent on the Lost Lake trail is pretty sweet, the first 2 miles of trail cross steep avalanche chutes and rock fields then lots of smooth and fast singletrack and enough technical rock hopping and root jumping to keep any experienced rider happy.
After transitioning through a series of switchbacks, you'll come to the creek crossing at the junction with the Middle Fork Trail/Forest Road 487
. Ride downhill to the right for about a mile, cross the Red River and ride out to the Middle Fork trailhead, then down forest road 58 back to the parking area.
Be aware that these trails are often heavily used by hikers and horses, and ATV traffic can be high on the roads.
History & Background
This area was first developed by miners in the 1800's, the beginning sections of the ride were built as part of the Big Ditch, which diverted water from the mountains to the working mines in Elizabethtown